(CNN)When plans for the South African government's tourism board to sponsor English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur were leaked and then confirmed last week, they caused widespread public anger.
The controversial sponsorship deal, which has been conditionally approved but not yet finalized, is reported to be around $58 million (R1 billion).
But South Africa is currently in a national crisis, its everyday life paralyzed by a series of daily power blackouts affecting everything from preparing baby formula and policing to powering oxygen machines and preserving dead bodies.
Known locally as loadshedding, these blackouts are carried out by state-owned energy utility Eskom to avoid the total collapse of the grid and have become so disruptive that President Cyril Ramaphosa is considering declaring a natural disaster.
In this climate, and following the backlash that accompanied the public announcement of the plans, local media reported on Sunday that tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu is "set to pull the plug" on the deal.
CNN has contacted the Department of Tourism for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication, and South African Tourism (SAT) who declined to comment.
So, with the country in the middle of a national crisis, why has its tourism board conditionally approved a deal that would direct government money towards one of England's biggest, and richest, soccer clubs?
'Help us shift the dial'
Ostensibly, sponsoring Tottenham would help "convert fans and spectators into tourists," South African Tourism (SAT) said in a statement on February 2, helping to reach the government-mandated goal of 21 million international tourist arrivals by 2030, as the country's tourism sector recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We cannot carry on with business as usual, because it will not yield the desired results. This is why we are contemplating a partnership of this scale with Tottenham Hotspurs FC, to really help us shift the dial in our tourist arrivals," SAT's acting chief executive officer Themba Khumalo said in the statement.
Tottenham declined to comment on the deal.
The South African tourist industry collapsed during the pandemic with its contribution to the country's GDP more than halving in 2020 and, while the domestic market has recovered, attracting international tourists back has proved more difficult.
Using football sponsorship to boost international tourism is not a new idea. Rwanda controversially began sponsoring Arsenal in 2018, which SAT cites as the reason behind an 8% increase in that country's tourism numbers.
Meanwhile Malawi's Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Wildlife signed an agreement last month with Spanish Segunda Division side Club Deportivo Leganes to become one of its rotating main sponsors.
By choosing to sponsor Spurs, SAT hopes to tap into the UK market -- the third largest source of international visitors to South Africa